Exhibition: Reanimating Cultural Heritage in Sierra Leone

Location: University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK
Dates: 9 January – 17 February 2012
Opening times: North Cloisters (Mon-Fri: 09:00-22:00; Sat-Sun 11:00-20:00); North Lodge (Mon-Fri: 09:00-17:00)
The exhibition is free and open to the public.
An associated event will be taking place between 17:30 and 20:00 on 2 February 2012 in the Old Refectory, UCL. Speakers include Paul Basu, Ruth Phillips, Bill Hart, Zachary Kingdon, and Sierra Leone’s Director of Cultural Affairs, Fodah Jalloh.
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Reanimating Cultural Heritage in Sierra Leone is a multimedia exhibition marking the culmination of a three-year research project and the launch of the www.sierraleoneheritage.org digital heritage resource. Led by Dr Paul Basu, Reader in Material Culture and Museum Studies at University College London, the project has been concerned with the ‘digital curation’ of Sierra Leonean collections dispersed in different museums, and with exploring the capacity of cultural heritage to contribute to civil society strengthening in the developing world.
The exhibition is split across two sites at UCL. In UCL’s North Cloisters is a vibrant display of large format photographs documenting different aspects of Sierra Leone’s cultural heritage, alongside an exhibition of iconic objects from Sierra Leone from the collections of the British Museum and Sierra Leone National Museum. This includes displays of traditional masks associated with the female Bondo or Sande initiation society, fine examples of 19th-century Mandingo leatherwork, rarely seen stone ‘nomoli’ sculptures, and magical garments worn by the Kamajor militia during Sierra Leone’s recent civil war. In the North Lodge at the main entrance to UCL on Gower Street is a audio-visual installation, showing a continuous loop of short documentaries made by the project and its Sierra Leonean partners. From different music, dance and masquerade traditions to weaving and basket-making, these provide a glimpse into the wealth of Sierra Leone’s little-known culture and heritage. These displays are accompanied by various image and text panels describing the project, its objectives and activities in greater depth.
UCLTV video about project:

Website: www.sierraleoneheritage.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Sierra-Leone-Heritage/104060172993181


An important part of the Reanimating Cultural Heritage project has been to develop an innovative website to provide access to Sierra Leonean artefacts in different museum collections. At www.sierraleoneheritage.org one can access the digitised Sierra Leonean collections of the Sierra Leone National Museum, the British Museum, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow Museums, the World Museum Liverpool, and the British Library’s Sound Archive. Separated from their original cultural contexts, many museum objects can appear static and lifeless. A key objective of the project has therefore been to bring the objects back to life by juxtaposing them in the website with locally-produced videos showing the artefacts being manufactured, used and discussed. Our understanding of a traditional mask, for example, is transformed when we can see and hear it in the context of a vibrant masquerade performance. The website also uses social networking technologies to connect people who share an interest in Sierra Leonean culture and heritage across the world.
The digital heritage resource was initially launched in Sierra Leone in November 2011 at the Sierra Leone National Museum. It is already having an impact in schools and colleges, where it is being used to develop the social studies and history curriculum, and introduce many young Sierra Leoneans to their own cultural heritage for the first time.
The project and exhibition have been funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of its Beyond Text programme.
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Caption: Bondo Society Dancers, Tuiyor, Fiama Chiefdom, Kono District. In rural Sierra Leone, male and female initiation societies traditionally functioned as educational as well as political institutions. Through initiation into the exclusively female Bondo Society, for example, adolescent girls would be transformed into marriageable women and learn from the Society elders the social, practical and aesthetic skills appropriate to their new role. In the Bondo Society, many lessons are learnt through song and dance, which often involve the retelling or reenactment of moral tales. Initiates daub their faces and bodies in white clay, which symbolises ideals of femininity and connection with the spirit world.

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